The giant oarfish

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The giant oarfish

A new month, a new Anonymous Animal. This month Jelle Hoogenboom introduces us to one of the scariest, yet unknown creatures of our planet. One that shares many similarities with a sea serpent…

Back in the days, cartographers decorated sea maps with monsters like krakens, sea serpents and leviathans. Nowadays we don't believe in monsters (right?!), so we try to explain these fantasy beasts with real-life animals that sparked the imagination. A kraken is just an oversized octopus, and if you're too long at sea, manatees start to look like mermaids. Crazy Columbus. Anyway: the original sea serpent is the giant oarfish.

The giant oarfish is a ribbon-like deep-sea fish with a silver bluish skin and bright red fins that sometimes comes to the surface. With a record length of 11 meters, it's the longest known bony fish. Here is one being held by 15 US Navy SEALs. Myths are born out of close encounters with such a gargantuan, as these people on a Mexican beach can testify. Don't worry, they're safe. Oarfish only eat shrimp.

Did you notice the crown on his head? We're dealing with royalty. Fishermen gave it the nickname 'king of herrings', believing that it leads shoals of these fishes. But oarfish normally live much deeper than herring, up to 1000 meters. Little is known about its life there: this film from 2010 is the first footage of the creature in its natural habitat.

These elusive monarchs sometimes come to visit us surface-dwellers, but never for a happy occasion: such a fish is probably dying. A stranding is just as rare, but when it happens, like in California last month, it generates media attention you don't normally see for a dead fish. The king is dead, long live the king!